Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Days of Our Lives

Cue the male monotone and flip your hourglass because just like sands trickling through, so too are the "days of our lives...."

I jest, but honestly, doesn't it feel like these days EVERY day is a "special" day?  Somehow dedicated to some cause or person, a tribute to a giant movement, a legendary or heroic figure, or something really teeny-tiny and and made up of minutiae as small as those grains of sands??

I both relish in and recoil from these "days."  The same way I do loaded holidays like my birthday and New Year's Eve.  I hate to put too much undue emphasis on any single given thing on any single given day.  It's too much pressure, too finite, too rigid for my loosey-goosey ways and whims.  The United Nations, however, disagrees....

Real suckers for these remembrance days, the UN's got a busy calendar from International Day of Commemoration in Memory of Victims of the Holocaust on January 27th to World Cancer Day on February 4th to World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15th to International Day for the Abolition of Slavery on December 2nd.  And all the "days of our lives" that fall betwixt and between as well.

Obviously, I believe in the causes and people that inspired these "days" - for the most, that is; World Tuna Day on May 2nd may occasionally escape my notice - but I'm not sure that up and designating a single day each year is necessarily the most effective means of promoting mass awareness of an important cause or person.

Additionally, one cannot overlook the self-aggrandizement of a "United Nations Day" each year on October 24th.  (Can we all tell that I am underwhelmed with the UN?)

However, in the space of about six weeks, we will have celebrated three such days, that actually do carry some importance for The Toa Nafasi Project. 

On March 8th, we celebrated International Women's Day with an event at a local cafe in Moshi.  Many different NGOs attended along with Toa and it was a really nice time to spend with other women and discuss the burgeoning new role of women in the 21st century, in the wake of #MeToo and #TimesUp, and in the face of great global change - socially, economically, and culturally.

 The teachers enjoy looking at photos of themselves in print.

 Teacher Leah was the standout of the group this IWD.
Here she is speaking about Toa to a group of schoolgirls
who passed by our stand.

And here is Leah talking to a group of mamas about our work, emphasizing the importance of parental involvement
in children's development and education.
She even got to use her Maasai roots as she spoke with a group of women from Simanjiro in their native tongue!

Teachers Leah and Dorcas welcomed special guests
Ester Rambau of the Moshi Municipal Education Office
and Grace Lyimo of Connects Autism Tanzania.

 And over it all, TZ's own "gray lady," the nation's greatest lady,
 Mount Kilimanjaro, looked over us all,
loaded with innuendo and evocation.

On March 21st, we observed World Down Syndrome Day in conjunction with our long-time partner, The Gabriella Rehabilitation Center, a locally-run organization for children with special needs requiring self-enclosed classrooms and boarding facilities.  I was not physically present, though there in spirit (and updated virtually and aggressively by Hyasinta who apparently has found her way to a new smart phone).  It warmed my heart not only to be able to share in the festivities from afar, but to see the Toa staff embrace (without me there to nag and look over their shoulders!!) the purpose of this "day" and the children it recognizes.

The kids at Gabriella proudly display their banner
upon making their way from the center to a nearby school,
where the event was to take place.

The Gabriella kids are a motley crew with many differences in both learning and just being.  The director, Brenda Shuma, does an exceptional job to make each child feel at home and supported.
She also provides counseling to parents and caregivers.
That's how you get well-adjusted little munchkins like these guys!

The obligatory #squadgoals shot.
I mean, we may be doing God's work,
but isn't it vitally important we look our best while doing it??

Fashion show!  Brenda loves to encourage kids in sport, art, music, and all kinds of extracurricular activities.  Why not fashion?

This coming Monday, April 2nd, will be World Autism Awareness Day, a "day" that Toa has commemorated publicly many times in the past, but which we won't be this year simply due to poor timing.  It is Easter Monday, and all parties have agreed that Moshi town won't turn out for the event the way they previously have.  Better we celebrate Easter (well, Passover for me and some few others) and do a bigger push for "Usonji Day" next year.

However, I was informed that on the 21st, they also kind of observed autism in addition to Down Syndrome, so you know, the "day" hasn't been totally lost.  And, for you readers out there with short memories, let me refresh you with some stories of Usonji Days past....
Until 2019, my friends....

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Sweet Sixteen

So, I'm just over a month late in writing about the tremendous 5th anniversary celebration of The Toa Nafasi Project, but just like with my real "sweet sixteen," let's chalk it up to late blooming and a variety of conflicting interests, all of which seem to be priorities at the moment.

Anyhoo, the reason this blog post is titled "Sweet Sixteen" is because the celebration was held on the 16th of February, this year 2018.  Another reason might be that it is one of the first important indicators of success and maturity that we have crossed, and a cause for a lot of fanfare and festivity.

We started planning back in the Fall of 2017 while I was still in the United States, with a collective effort from Allison who engineered the making of the invitations, and Gasto who secured the venue and catering.  On my end, I created the guest list and brought some zawadi (gifts) from the U.S. for the teachers to try out before using them on our students.  (You'll see below....)

The day itself got off to a fairly slow if not predictable start with lots of "Will there be/Won't there be" issues.  The attendance of the Regional Commissioner of Kilimanjaro was not at all a sure thing up to the very minute she arrived!  However, everything worked out in the most amazing way, and by day's end Carla and I were pinching ourselves at the success of this day and, indeed, of the last five years.

Congratulations to The Toa Nafasi Project and all its staff, students, and supporters on its first five years!  Here's to five more!!  Check out pictures from our "sweet sixteen" below....


Here is the whole gang assembled toward the end of the day.  I am flanked by Mama Anna, our illustrious RC of Kilimanjaro and Mr. Kiwelu, Toa's Secretary of the Board and also Councilman of Ng'ambo Ward, one of the three in which we currently work.  To Anna's right is Mr. Kamenya from the District Commissioner's office and Baba Ngowi, another member of Toa's Board of Directors and the very first person I met when I got off the plane in "in Africa" in 2007!  To Kiwelu's left are Ester Rambau and Joyce Urassa of the District Education Office, and Toa Head Teacher and Project Leader, Hyasinta Macha, about whom I write on this blog often.  The back row includes teachers from our four participating government school sites: Msaranga, Msandaka, Mnazi, and Kiboriloni Primary Schools.

Here is Mama Anna speaking about Toa's accomplishments.  I love how her hand gesture caught in this photo looks almost messianic, raised in a sort of blessing.

This is a short video that ITV took of Mr. Kamenya speaking on behalf of the DC's office about the necessity of organizations like Toa which, though technically private sector, support the initiatives of the public sector by complementing them where necessary.  Specifically, he discusses the importance of children who are "slow learners" being given an equal opportunity to learn in the typical Tanzanian classroom.  Toa helps make this possible.

The return of Mwalimu Mshiu!  You may remember this formidable woman from Toa years past.  We worked with her while she was the Standard One teacher at Msaranga Primary School for several years and then after her retirement, with Toa directly in 2015 and 2016.  We have since gone our separate ways, but dear Mama Mshiu came back to scare us all into submission and say some very powerful words about how Toa tutors are provided training that even the Tanzanian teacher training college-certified teachers are not given.

The Toa staff sang the most beautiful shairi or poem about Toa and what the organization means to them.  I became quite verklempt and was unable to do much more than cover my face with my mismatched arms.  In case you were wondering the cause, the right one hangs out the driver's side window regularly!

Okay, I might get in trouble for posting this since no one featured in this picture had any interest in having their photo taken, but....  Behold Carla, my friend Rhiannon, and her volunteer and friend (and now my friend too) Trish getting their chow on.

Carla complained that she "could always be counted on to play the fool," but come on, no one forced her to get up and do the electric slide with a bunch of women a third her age.  I mean, do ya see me in line here????

Prior to the actual program, Gasto did a motivational talk with the teachers and I broke out the fun and games.  As part of Toa's holistic approach to Early Childhood Education, we like to make Fridays into "fundays," with educational recreation.  I had brought back Twister and Connect Four and the teachers tested them out before introducing them to our students.  They were quite the hit!

The whole shebang was written up, again courtesy of ITV, in Nipashe, a national Tanzanian newspaper.  The headline reads, "Secret Successes in Education Have Been Revealed."

Think I've pretty much covered the high points, but if you're itching for more, I have the whole extravaganza on video.  Let me know if you're interested in a private viewing!  ;)

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Amazing Face

In a quick coda to my last entry about 2018 intake, I just wanted to share a few more of the amazing new faces I've been meeting as I traverse from school site to school site, making sure I have each student's details.

To clarify once again, these kids are just the newbies in the Standard One classrooms at Msaranga, Msandaka, Mnazi, and Kiboriloni Primary Schools.  They have not been tested yet - for the most part - although testing is underway.  So, there is nothing quantifying these students except for their undeniable cuteness and their individual personalities shining through.

Testing should be done around the end of March by which time, we will have some idea of who needs our help this year.  Then, as per usual, we'll do parent meetings and work out modified versions of an IEP for each child going forward.

Onward and upward!









Monday, March 12, 2018

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackboard

Greetings, dear readers, and many salaams from a fairly cool and cloudy Kilimanjaro.  I hope you've all been keeping well, wherever in the world you may be.

We've been awfully busy over here at The Toa Nafasi Project this month of March.  So much so that I've still not found time to post an entry about our excellent fifth anniversary celebration and now the recent International Women's Day festivities.  Bear with me as I negotiate these hectic days and do my best to prioritize all the things that need to get done!

The most pressing of all tasks at the moment is to complete the intake at our four participating schools sites in Moshi Municipal district, Kilimanjaro region: Msaranga, Msandaka, Mnazi, and Kiboriloni Primary Schools.

All four headmasters have been greeted and schmoozed.  Ditto all sixteen Standard One and Two teachers in the regular classrooms.  Nothing left to do but the job at hand: taking the names and photos of each child in the 2018 Standard One registry, and completing an observation form for each student, noting things like appearance, behavior, gross and fine motor skills, and of course, aptitude in basic literacy and numeracy.

We've done it many years before (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017), and we'll do it again now, but it's an awful lot of work and takes more than a bit of time.

Still, I love this sort of ripple before the full tide of the work sweeps over.  I get to see the kids for the first time and witness little glimpses into their minds and personalities.

Here are a few new faces from 2018.  I'm guessing each one of these little people has his or her own way of looking at the world.  Starting with the blackboard....

I. Eye

II. Tree

III. Winds

IV. One

V. Beauty

VI. Mood

VII. Imagine

VIII. Noble

IX. Sight

X. Flying

XI. Shadow

XII. River

XIII. Snow

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Momager Dearest

Some people have moms, some have managers, and some are lucky enough to have a two-in-one collabo - though I will concede that most of those people are noxious child stars!

While, yes, I am her child, and yes, she is my mom, Carla is oh-so-much more than that.

At 73 years strong, she is still globe-trotting, people-meeting, and plan-making.  A retired professor emerita; author of multiple books, papers, and articles; habitual conference-goer and recurrent conference-speaker; and most recently, recipient of a coveted Guggenheim fellowship, this woman has long been my heroine.

She is also a major pain in the neck.

Toa Nafasi started in 2012, and since Carla's retirement in 2015, she's been coming 'round these parts to make sure that I am doing MY job HER way!  Check out these past entries for more on my "Momager Dearest:"

1.) http://toanafasi.blogspot.com/2015/01/eagle-has-landed.html 

2.) http://toanafasi.blogspot.com/2016/02/snapchat.html 

3.) http://toanafasi.blogspot.com/2017/03/postcards-from-edge.html 

And from the University of Maryland site: http://www.english.umd.edu/news/18831 

Honestly, though, I am lucky to have her, and really both of my parents, who support me and The Toa Nafasi Project tirelessly, even when I myself am so tired, I just wanna quit.

My dad, David, is more of a behind-the-scenes player, doing our legal work pro bono, sourcing accountants and auditors, and dealing with the dreaded IRS.

Meanwhile, Carla is center-stage, coming over once or twice a year to shake things up and remind everyone of the presence of the U.S. Board and their expectations: of what our objectives are, of what goals we've met, of where we've succeeded and where we've failed, and of course, of what in the heck we are doing with all our hard-raised donor money.  She is the representation of Toa's accountability to the folks back home, and she helps me to right the ship when the winds pick up.

She is also my best friend.

Here are some captioned photos from her most recent trip to Moshi, having just left last week.

With her original boyfriend, ma lumiere,
Headmaster Mlinga at Msandaka Primary School.

With her brand-new side piece,
Headmaster Makenga at Kiboriloni Primary School.

With the happiest man alive,
Headmaster Kijo at Mnazi Primary School.

Chowing down with my friends at our fifth anniversary celebration, blog post on that shinny to come.

Leading the conga line with the Toa tutors at the same event. 

Wearing my friend Ali's daughter Sadie's Valentine's Day bow.
I have no reasonable explanation for this.

Being gifted with a kikoi by Vumi's young daughter, Grace.

Being gifted YET AGAIN by the tutors at Msaranga Primary School on behalf of all the staff of The Toa Nafasi Project.
Until 2019, Momager wangu!

Monday, February 19, 2018

C4(H) - Pow!

Greetings, readers, and hope this blog post finds you all well.  I alluded in the last entry to the seminar that Carla and I attended earlier this month, and now I would like to expand a bit on what we learned....

Held at MS-TCDC, a training center for development cooperation located in beautiful Usa River, we conferenced amidst these colorful murals about African power and governance.  The grounds were also abundant with vibrant flora and, of course, there was that fabulous library which I wrote about last week (https://toanafasi.blogspot.com/2018/02/a-clean-well-lighted-place.html).

Capacity 4 Humanity (C4H) was a conference dedicated to learning and capacity-building innovations in Africa.  It was put on by Humentum (https://humentum.org/), a group of young, international development professionals who met forty years ago at a workshop for financial managers in Washington, DC.  Realizing the common challenges they were facing, they began to share ideas and solutions, and created a support group to give each other advice.

Focused on networking, human resources, and advocacy, Humentum’s mission is to inspire and achieve operational excellence for those organizations working for positive social impact.  Their current membership is 350 organizations strong, offering 150 learning events in 20 countries this year alone.


The C4H conference held on February 7th and 8th, 2018 was one such event.

In partnership with ActionAid and with support from CIVICUS, Gateway Academy, Humanitarian Leadership Academy, and MS-TCDC, this conference provided a space for capacity-builders and thought leaders in East Africa to convene, collaborate, and learn from each other.

Sessions included topics such as: Instituting Behavior Change in Local Communities; Strengthening Capacities Among Responders and Humanitarian Organizations; How to Create an Organizational Learning Culture; Fostering a Work Environment Conducive to Learning Transfer; How Organizational Learning Will Make Stronger, Happier Staff; and, Valuing Local Perspectives: Lessons Learned from Participatory Reflection and Review Process. 


The keynote speaker was Adriano Campolina, General Secretary of ActionAid International.  Even if he had not said it, Carla would have identified him as Brazilian, given his implicit reliance on Paolo Freire's The Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  The key term for both of them is "oppression."


According to Adriano, we need new approaches to capacity-building given current global trends such as climate change, the rise of right-wing politics, joblessness, disputes over natural resources,  but most especially the erosion of humanitarian values in the public arena. 


Thus, we need to: a) begin by reading the context of oppression; b) find ways to empower local communities, working on the premise that knowledge comes from both within and without; and, c) develop strategic actions that would include consciousness-raising, economic empowerment, building alliances, and solidarity movements.  Most specifically, we need to be aware of the gap that exists between national policies on the one hand and programs of the local level on the other, and find a way to integrate them. 


"Capacity-building" is defined as the "process of developing and strengthening the skills, instincts, abilities, processes, and resources that organizations and communities need to survive, adapt, and thrive in a fast-changing world."  Specifically, in relation to NGOs, capacity-building encompasses "actions that improve non-profit effectiveness," in terms of organizational and financial stability, program quality, and growth.

One of the conference-goers, a French woman named Victoria Fontan, told us how contested this term actually is.  Initially, it was invoked from a neo-colonial perspective to indicate that the West was bringing its "vastly superior" capacity-building knowledge to help former colonial populations.  More recently, local native communities have been fighting back, insisting on their own specialized knowledge of local needs and capacity to build.  There is currently a struggle between these two opposing points of view. 


Victoria is the author of Decolonizing Peace, available in both English and Kiswahili.  Victoria says, "Decolonizing Peace offers a vivid critique of what I refer to as the "peace industry" and the neo-colonial Northern addiction to helping, hence infantilizing, the Global South.  The book looks at social complex adaptive systems for peace which do not rely on Northern funds, or well-meaning peace missionaries.  I use chaos theory, cybernetics, and panarchy as post-Cartesian lenses to analyze the sustainablity and resilience of local peace initiatives."


This got Carla and me to thinking about the instability of power within organizations, including our own The Toa Nafasi Project.  The director (me) and board (her) ostensibly have power since Toa is "our" organization.  But power may also shift to local authorities who may impose their own rules (define who is and who is not a "teacher" or a "professional") or to the staff who may accept or refuse to do the work.  So it would seem important to recognize these different forms of power and to try to balance them out.

I think we are on the way to doing that now.  Our "teachers" are on the right track though they may not have the necessary qualifications or certificates that local government authorities would like.  However, the training Toa provides them and the benefits they receive have professionalized them.  To a certain extent, even more than the government-employed teachers. 

Our administrative/managerial staff takes a back seat to the work of these professionalized, capacity-built native women, so that Adriano's main point of empowering the local community and providing services on-the-ground while still balancing the needs and wants of the central government and trying to effect policy change is a part of Toa's agenda. 

It's a lot to process, and even more to think about and realize into action.